Shiffrin grabs more Vermont gold

KILLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin had one of those days on Sunday, the kind her competitors on the World Cup have come to dread.

On a day when cold wind gusts and angry snow squalls raked Killington, Shiffrin won the first run convincingly, and then skied brilliantly on a brutal second course to distance herself further from her rivals.

Shiffrin, who was second in Saturday’s giant slalom to Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, picked up her first win of the season, and made it look almost easy.

She finished with a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 40.91 seconds, 1.64 seconds ahead of Petra Vlhova of Slovakia. Austria’s Bernadette Schild finished third in 1:43.58, a distant 2.67 seconds back.

Shiffrin also won the slalom at Killington last year, when the World Cup returned to Vermont for the first time since 1978.

Like the first run, the second run Sunday took place under gray skies, but it was noticeably colder and windier. And the course, hard and fast, was unforgiving. Seven of the 30 skiers failed to finish, including Switzerland’s Wendy Holder, who was closest to Shiffrin after the first run.

But Shiffrin had a dominant performance on a very tough hill.

She credited a blazing start in the first run for picking her up. “That start was the attitude I wanted to take into today,” she said, making a statement by the time she got to the first interval, which was just 10 seconds into the run. She skied that short span about a third of a second faster than anyone else.

She brought the same attitude into the second run. “I wanted to be aggressive,” she said. “I wanted to have the same mentality as the first run: Be smart, but let it fly. I had that feeling on both runs today.”

Vlhova had won the last two slaloms on the World Cup — the final race of the previous season, at Aspen, Colorado, and the first of this season, at Levi, Finland.

She has come to realize how difficult it is to beat Shiffrin. “You can’t mistakes and still beat Mikaela,” Vlhova said.

On Sunday, she didn’t have a great first run, and she made a mistake on the flats in the second run. She was surprised that she was in front when she crossed the line, where she stayed until Shiffrin skied.

Shiffrin now leads the overall World Cup standings with 305 points. With a win and a second-place finish each, Shiffrin and Vlhova are tied for the slalom points lead.

For Shiffrin, this was her 26th World Cup slalom win, making her third all time. At just 22, she has won 32 races in all disciplines, ninth all-time. And the Killington slalom was her sixth World Cup win in the United States. Only Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider (8) and American Tamara McKinney (7) have won more.

“This was even sweeter than last year,” Shiffrin said, noting that in 2016 she was “almost incapacitated by nerves” to be competing in Vermont. While she lives now in Colorado, she has family ties to Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire, and spent some of her formative years skiing at Burke Mountain Academy. This year, she said, she felt more under control.

Her family joined her on the podium again after Sunday’s win. The race drew about 16,000 people, nearly as many as on Saturday, when organizers reported 18,000 attendees, the most for a women’s World Cup race.

At her post-race news conference, she called up a young girl, Gabriella, who she said had been through some tough times, and presented her with the flowers she’d received for winning. She advised her to “keep on chugging. Sometimes it gets tough, but I’m really proud of you, and proud of your smile.”

A junior ski racer from Hunter Mountain in New York, Gabriella has a chronic illness, juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Shiffrin also gave Gabriella a teddy bear and the racing bib she’d worn, and autographed her ski helmet.

For both Shiffrin and Gabriella, it was a day to remember.

Giant slalom

KILLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin had a roaring crowd in her corner, possibly the biggest to watch a women’s World Cup race.

But it was not enough to overcome Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg in a stirring duel Saturday on Killington’s aptly named Superstar trail.

Rebensburg won her second straight World Cup giant slalom by edging Shiffrin, the overall points leader who was skiing in the state where she attended school.

The German finished two runs on Killington’s Superstar trail in 1 minute, 57.63 seconds, with Shiffrin 0.67 back. Manuela Moelgg of Italy held on for third, 1.49 seconds off the lead.

The race took place before about 18,000 fans — organizers believe it the largest crowd for a women’s World Cup race.

And what a race they saw. The second run turned into a showdown star skiers, with the last four each taking over the top spot.

Moelgg had been third after the first run and went into the lead with a strong run. Then Shiffrin took her turn. She is a product of Burke Mountain Academy in northern Vermont and was greeted with thunderous cheers as she left the gate. The noise followed her all the way down the course. She had a great run and wound up 0.82 seconds ahead of Moelgg.

But the day belonged to Vebensburg, who had a superlative second run despite what she described as a big mistake at the top of the course. She said she was surprised she came out on top, and by the margin of victory.

“Sometimes when you make a mistake, you know you have to charge, to go 100 percent,” Rebensburg said. “Sometimes mistakes can make you faster.”

Still, Shiffrin was pleased with her progress in giant slalom since the opener in Soelden.

“This was a step in the right direction,” she said, adding she felt more confident at Killington. She made a few adjustments to her equipment and her attitude.

“I felt like I made some good turns,” she said.

Stephanie Brunner of Austria was fourth in 1:59.28 and Federica Brignone of Italy was fifth in 1:59.38. Tessa Worley of France — the giant slalom winner at Killington last season in the first World Cup race held at the resort — was sixth.

The sunshine that greeted the racers for the first run gave way to thick clouds as the second run progressed. It was spitting rain by the time the last skiers took to the course. The overcast made it difficult to see, what racers call flat light conditions.

Rebensburg said she was praying it wouldn’t start raining hard before she got out of the gate.

“We train in all kinds of weather, on all kinds of snow,” she said. “We know how to handle it. When you’re in good shape, it really doesn’t matter.”

Rebensburg was surprised by the many fans and said Killington is building a great reputation with the skiers.

“The crowd cheers for everyone,” she said. “And this just a well-organized event. The good conditions make it possible for us to have a really good race, and race at the highest level.”

The World Cup circuit returned to Killington and Vermont this year after a successful weekend of racing in 2016.

“East Coast fans are just incredible,” Shiffrin said. She mentioned a message she’d received from a fan before Saturday’s race. “It said, ‘We’re not here to watch you win, we’re here to support you.'”

The day of racing began with a moment of silence for David Poisson, the French skier who was killed Nov. 13 while training in Canada.

Racing continues at Killington on Sunday with the women’s slalom. Shiffrin won the slalom at Killington last year.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.

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